1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 37
Chapter 14: Arsenal of Constitutional Monarchy
Stefan got off the horse, then went to help Vera down. They had ridden in to Ufa in response to a request from Czar Mikhail, delivered by a messenger rider. They were met by Olga Petrovichna, who led them up to the Ufa kremlin.
“What’s this all about?” Vera asked.
“I don’t know for sure. You know that Anya had everyone tell her about what they did and put it all in a book?”
Stefan nodded. He remembered. It had taken days and it wasn’t just Anya. There had been half a dozen interviewers and they wanted to know everyone’s skills.
“Well, they were talking about rockets and Anya was going through that book and came up with Stefan’s name. So we sent for the two of you.”
Bernie adjusted the down-time-made Coleman lantern and went back to the table. He looked down at the plans for the black powder rockets. They were mostly wood, but they needed metal or ceramic venturi.
Then he looked up at Natasha and couldn’t help but smile. She wasn’t wearing the white makeup that she had worn the first day they had met, but her natural complexion was pale and she was wearing ruby-red lipstick. Her hair was just as straight and black as ever and her eyes just as blue. She looked up and saw him looking and there was just a hint of blush in her cheeks as she smiled back. Then the door opened and Olga brought in a big man and a little woman who had to be Stefan and his wife, Vera. Natasha turned and the smith and his wife started to bow.
“Don’t bother with all that,” Natasha said. “How is your new village coming?”
Stefan remained silent, but Vera said, “Slowly, Your Highness. The land is mostly forest and we’ve been chopping down trees for the last couple of weeks. We’ll have plenty of logs to build our houses, but it’s a lot of work to clear the land.”
“If you have extra lumber, we will want to buy some of it,” Bernie said.
“Is that why we’re here?” Vera asked.
“No,” Natasha said. “It’s about Stefan’s experience with drop forges. We have people with similar experience, but we also have a lot of jobs for them.”
Bernie noticed that Vera didn’t seem thrilled at this news, and he remembered that Stefan had been, for all intents and purposes, rented to a neighboring village last winter. Which was where he had gotten the experience. “We pay people to work for us,” Bernie said. “And we don’t force them to take a job if they don’t want it.”
Natasha looked over at him, then back at Stefan and Vera. “You do need to understand that this is important. There are steamboats coming up the river right now. They want to take Czar Mikhail, and you and me, all of us, back into captivity. We have a young man with a small force out on the river slowing them down, but he needs better weapons than he has. We don’t have the equipment to make cannon, but we can make rockets. At least, we can make most of the parts needed for rockets. But one part is not easy to make, especially by hand. It’s called a venturi, and it is vital for making the rocket fly straight and fast.” She waved them over to the table and showed them the drawings.
“From what we were told, you built your own drop hammer and stamps for parts for your wagons. Is that right?” Bernie asked.
Bernie was starting to wonder if the guy knew how to talk. “What we need help with is a stamp or a set of stamps that can be used to make venturi.”
“Do they need to be made in one piece?” Stefan asked, as he looked at the drawings.
“What do you mean?” Bernie asked.
“Well, this thing is two bowls with a tube between them. It’s a pretty short tube too. You can’t make it as one piece with a drop hammer. You need to make two pieces at least, and probably three, then fit them together.”
From there the discussion went into technical details of how the stamps for each part would be made and how the parts would be assembled, clamped, bolted or welded. Induction welding would be best, but most of their electronic equipment had been left in the Dacha. Stefan was clearly confused about the notion of induction welding, but also interested. So the discussion digressed a bit at that point, but then got back to the venturi. They finally decided on a sort of heavy wire clamp to lock the two main pieces together.
By that time the ladies had drifted away to talk about costs, and if their discussion was rather sharper, it was collegial in its own way. Olga, Anya, and Vera were all experienced bargainers and Princess Natasha — if she wasn’t used to bargaining over a half dozen eggs in a market stall — was quite familiar with the costs of labor and materials.
For two weeks Stefan worked on stamps while another drop hammer was built in Ufa. Then, in two days, they made five hundred venturi. Which was a hundred more than they had rockets to use them.
Izabella was not comfortable. She was living in New Ruzuka and still not at all sure what was going to happen to her. Most of the villagers were willing enough for her to fill a role not that dissimilar to the role that her family had played in old Ruzuka as an arbiter of disputes. But they weren’t going to be in any great hurry to give her half the crop to pay for that service. Granted, she owned a good share of the corporation, and if it ever started paying dividends it would help support her. But the way it had worked out was that the corporation was paying the farmers, and that pay came out first, before everyone divided up any profits. So Izabella’s net was not going to be the same as the fifty percent of gross that her family had gotten in old Ruzuka.
Izabella’s baby was going to be arriving soon and would need things. It wasn’t that she was broke. She and her mother had cleaned out the family coffers when they ran off, and she still had most of her mother’s old jewelry and most of the cash they had taken. It hadn’t occurred to anyone to divide up the stuff when Elena went nuts. No. That wasn’t true. When Mama had gone nuts in Balakhna, Izabella had thought of the money and jewels, hidden in a compartment in their wagon, then she’d thought of the fact that she was pregnant and kept her mouth shut.
The Czar’s Bank in Ufa had taken that money, even the paper money, at face value, as a deposit, so she had money. But if she didn’t figure out what to do with it, she was going to run out in a year or two. Then she and her baby would be living on her share of the village profits. And Izabella had expenses. She had a position to maintain. Her share of the profits of a farming village might not be enough for a proper household.
She heard Vera and Stefan coming up the path to her wagon arguing about something. Actually, Vera was arguing. Stefan was grunting. It wasn’t an uncommon phenomenon.
Izabella got up and waddled to the door. “What did they want?”
“They want Stefan to build a factory to make rocket nozzles,” Vera said.
“That’s interesting . . .” Izabella didn’t know whether it was good or bad. She’d heard Vera arguing with herself while Stefan grunted. but she hadn’t heard what Vera was saying.
“The Czar’s Bank in Ufa is willing to make us a loan to set up a factory to make the nozzles. But it’s going to be expensive and only the government is going to be interested in buying the rocket nozzles and that means . . .”
Izabella listened as the older woman described the deal and she had a thought. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a more general factory so that it could make more than just rocket nozzles?”
“Sure. But that would cost even more and even though the loan is at what Anya assures us is a sweetheart rate, we’re going to have to pay it back. And if we ask for more, they are going to up the interest rate.”